– By Paulie Spiceflow –
After 10 episodes, season 3 of Star Wars Rebels has fans yawning and changing the channel. After a dramatic season 2 finale, the series has retreated into single-serve kiddie action stories. For those of us over the age of 10, that isn’t good enough.
Obviously, Clone Wars and Rebels are not your typical cartoons. Yes, they are for kids but they include some more mature and compelling elements that are of great interest to Star Wars fans of all ages. The shows were a low-cost way to fill in some of the gaps in the saga, build a new fan base among kids, and give popular characters from the expanded universe some screen time. As far as we know, Admiral Thrawn, Darth Maul, Ezra Bridger, Kanan Jarrus, Hera Syndulla, and Ahsoka Tano will not be featured in any live-action movie for the foreseeable future. Aside from the recent novels, this is the only way new fans will know these characters.
Yet, the producers of Rebels have largely abandoned this approach in favor of a much more modest objective: entertain children with 20 minute adventures. It should be clear to them now that approach was a mistake. Ratings have fallen to barely a half a million viewers, dramatically lower than the 2 million+ that tuned in for the series premiere. Not good…
Where are the Broad Story Arcs?
The biggest reason that I, an adult, tuned into these cartoons was the broader story arcs and their importance in the Star Wars Saga. In Clone Wars, it was the path of Anakin Skywalker towards the dark side and the the steadily expansion of the Palpatine’s power. The show also introduced a number of secondary characters that played important roles for legacy characters, including Ahsoka Tano, Darth Maul, and Duchess Satine. Many of the stories extended beyond 1-2 episode loops, carrying into later seasons. Arguably the entire 6-season run was a vast story arc. While a large number of episodes were single-serve adventures, the show never went too long before bringing you a 2 or 3 part epic adventure.
In 10 episodes, season 3 of Rebels has failed to do that. There’s been no noticeable movement in the rebellion arc, nor the evolution of Ezra Bridger. How is this for a metaphor: instead of developing and extending out the most compelling branches of the story tree, they are adding a bunch of new, weak branches.
Two significant events occurred at the beginning of this season: Maul learned of Obi-Wan’s survival and Thrawn became the new big villain. After the holocron revelation, we haven’t seen Maul since. As for Thrawn, well he has a silky-smooth voice with some scary pipe organ playing in the background, but so far has lost every engagement with the rebels. He is getting less scary by the week.
Then there are the other story branches we are all wondering about: Is Ahsoka dead? Where is Vader, Lando, and the other legacy characters? Who is this Bindu character?
The More Things Stay the Same…
It is not just Ezra that seems to be stuck in neutral. Among the Ghost crew there has been virtually no character development. Kanan is still Kanan. Episodes featuring Hera and Sabine have not shown any change or evolution in their characters. Worst of all, some of the endearing elements of the Ghost crew have been discarded: the pseudo-sibling rivalry between Ezra and Zeb, Kanan’s struggles as a mentor, the Kanan-Hera relationship, Ezra’s crush on Sabine (which appears to have vanished).
It appears the producers thought that introducing new secondary characters would keep it fresh. The problem is none of them are interesting. Wedge Antilles was a tertiary character from the original prequel, hardly worth writing home about. Fenn Rau is paper-thin, as is Mart the mini-Ezra of Iron Squadron. Agent Kallus has some potential but we only just last week got to hear him confirm he is Fulcrum.
No New Canon
Despite being limited by movie canon, Clone Wars managed to add new and compelling parts to the saga that many fans now accept and appreciate. The resurrection of Maul, the role padawan Ahsoka Tano played in Anakin’s eventual fall, Obi-Wan’s lost love, origins of Order 66, and the inclusion of various origin stories captivated fans.
What has Rebels done? So far, it hasn’t shown us anything we did not already know. The fate of Ahsoka Tano and her duel with Darth Vader was certainly a huge moment. Did he murder his former padawan, or did that glimmer of goodness that Luke discovers stay his hand? Maul made a try at recruiting Ezra to the dark side but that loop closed quickly. We still don’t know if Kanan or Ezra have any relevance in the new movies, or if they’re just a neat little self-contained plot.
Fans are desperately hoping that these stories and characters matter beyond this little cartoon, specifically we want them to be featured in the new movies. We all want some role for them to make these shows matter. Several parts of Clone Wars mattered. So far Rebels has not made much difference.
I am starting to worry the Vader-Ahsoka duel was the high point of the series. Hopefully, I am wrong. Season 3 started with a brief flash of later canon in “Holocrons of Fate” where Maul learns of Obi-Wan’s survival, and reference to two suns (Tatooine has two suns). By the way, I thought holocrons were just external hard drives or pass keys. Apparently they can see the future too. Anyway, that is definitely something they could work with going forward.
It was also suggested by some that there would be some kind of tie-in to Rogue One, which premieres in ten days. That is right around the time of the mid-season point for the show. I also wondered if something from the show would have a tie-in to Episodes VII and VIII. So far, nothing.
I am not sure how much longer Disney is going to tolerate a part of its flagship property failing. Rumor has it a new Star Wars animated series is in the works, possibly one to replace Rebels. It is always good to have a backup plan. You know, in case things go wrong.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.